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Is Seitan Vegan?

Seitan is made with wheat flour. Therefore it is completely vegan.

Meat substitutes have been around for generations, but the mock meat industry only came into the spotlight with the advent of veganism. As the health, environmental, and spiritual benefits of going vegan started to proliferate public knowledge through mass media, more people decided to look into the lifestyle and make the switch.

However, a large population of these soon-to-be vegans was meat lovers, and they were convinced that switching to a vegan diet meant giving up the taste and texture of the various meats they loved so much.

Luckily for them, ingredients like soy, tofu, tempeh, and seitan were already extensively used in various cuisines worldwide. These ‘meat substitutes’ were initially a part of specific local diets. Until it was discovered that, with the right preparation, they could be turned into a near-exact replica of some of the world’s most popular non-vegan dishes.

What is Mock Meat Made From?

Mock meat refers to any product that replicates the texture of animal flesh and can absorb flavors just like any regular meaty dish. 

Soy is perhaps the most popular ingredient used to replace conventional meat dishes, with derivatives like tofu and tempeh to recreate various dishes.

Lately, however, ‘seitan,’ an ingredient made from wheat, has risen in popularity, with even world-class restaurants serving up a wide variety of dishes. And while seitan can be used interchangeably with other mock meat ingredients, there are a few significant differences to keep in mind when cooking with it.

Is Seitan Vegan? 

The term ‘wheat meat’ has been around for centuries already. Seitan historically goes back to ancient China when Buddhist monks in the 6th Century decided to soak wheat dough in water. This would remove all the starch from the mix, leaving them with high-protein wheat gluten of sorts. With this preparation method, and in modern times, seitan is 100% vegan.

It is believed that advocates of Buddhism at the time would use it to encourage its followers to develop a meat-free diet, replacing their animal protein intake with a healthy dose of seitan.

The word itself was coined in the 1960s by a Japanese philosopher, George Ohsawa, and comes from a combination of two interesting Japanese words.

The word ‘sei’ translates to ‘proper’ or ‘correct,’ and the word ‘tan’ comes from the Japanese word ‘tanpaku,’ which means protein. It’s interesting to think that even as early as the 60s, someone was aware that plant-based protein was a wholesome and ‘proper’ source of protein.

How is Seitan Made?

Known most popularly by the catchy term ‘wheat meat,’ seitan is made by kneading wheat flour with water to create thick strands of gluten protein. The water is then drained out of the mix, and the excess starch is removed along with the water.

This process yields a gooey mass of wheat protein that can be shaped in whatever way you like and can be chopped up into bite-sized chunks.

One of the best aspects of this ingredient is that it’s simple to prepare and can be made by nearly anyone in the comfort of their homes.

What Does Seitan Taste Like?

Seitan on its own is practically tasteless, quite similar to bland chicken or an uncooked portobello mushroom. But seitan isn’t meant to be consumed as a standalone ingredient, and the beauty of cooking with seitan lies in its ability to deeply absorb a wide variety of flavors found in many recipes.

Seitan can replicate the taste of spicy buffalo wings or even savory curries like Indian chili chicken.

But the most attractive aspect of seitan, and the prime reason for its sudden rise in popularity, is its meaty texture. Seitan burgers and other preparations possess a texture almost identical to meat dishes, something that’s still quite difficult to replicate with soy, tofu, or tempeh.

How To Cook Seitan

Seitan is a highly versatile ingredient, and if you’re a meat-lover worried about transitioning to a plant-based diet, this is one dish that will make the transition a lot easier.

While it can be consumed raw or added to curries and other preparations, it’s best to lightly pan-sear or cook seitan before using it in other recipes.

You can start by attempting a simple grill or a roast. Seitan is a delectable barbecue snack to have at parties. All you need to do is marinate it in the sauce preparation you would use for any other meat dish and throw it on the grill for a quick snack.

Once you get more comfortable cooking with seitan, it can be added to various dishes. It makes for a great topping on pizza, and you can add bits of it to pasta and soups as well. And once you start to get comfortable cooking with seitan, you’ll be able to use it in more complex dishes, like bakes, pies, and casseroles.

Health Benefits of Seitan

Aside from its texture, taste, and versatility, seitan is popular among vegans and vegetarians due to its health benefits and the nutrition it provides to those who consume it.

Here are a few benefits of eating seitan:

1. Helps Build Muscle

Seitan is an excellent supplement for athletes in training. It is rich in protein and helps build and repair muscle tissue. To be more precise, 100g of seitan contains roughly 60 – 70 grams of protein.

This makes it a popular alternative to conventional meat as it contains nearly the same quantity of protein minus all the saturated fats and cholesterol.

2. Boosts Energy

Seitan is also an effective workout snack since it’s rich in iron, a nutrient that’s crucial to enhancing energy levels and boosting athletic performance.

Iron is used by the body to produce hemoglobin in the blood, a compound that carries oxygen from the lungs to every part of the body.

Iron is also used to produce myoglobin, a compound that carries oxygen to all the muscles in your body, giving them enough energy to function optimally.

3. Free From Sodium

Unlike most ingredients found on supermarket shelves, seitan is free from sodium (or contains negligible amounts). This means it’s safer for consumption than conventional products in the store and definitely a lot safer than meat and other meat substitutes.

4. No Fat Content

It’s worth reiterating that seitan is free from saturated fats usually found in supermarket products and conventional meat. 

Regular meat like chicken, beef, and pork may be rich in protein, but they come with a hefty quantity of fat. Consuming these meats regularly can be seriously detrimental to cardiovascular health over time.

On the other hand, Seitan packs a whole lot of protein minus the unhealthy fats, making it a safer bet in the long run.

Potential Downsides

While seitan is, for the most part, a healthy food, consuming too much (of anything) can be problematic. There are potential downsides to consuming seitan in excess, and if you plan to add it to your diet, 2 to 3 seitan dishes a week would be optimal.

Low in Fiber

While seitan is rich in protein, it contains very little fiber, making it difficult for the body to digest. So if you’re planning to use seitan as a source of protein, it’s best to supplement your meals with a few fibrous veggies on the side.

Made from Gluten

This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many vegans and vegetarians tend to be allergic to soy, and as such, are unable to consume many of the mock meats on the market. Luckily for them, seitan is made entirely of gluten, and they can consume it in moderation without worrying about digestive issues.

The downside is that a large part of the population suffers from gluten intolerance or ‘coeliac disease,’ making seitan inedible to many. It’s also important to remember that too much gluten can cause some discomfort in the digestive tract, making seitan an ingredient to be consumed sparingly.

Introduce Seitan to Your Life

As you can see, seitan is an entirely vegan ingredient with many potential health benefits to boast of. It’s also extremely versatile, with a meaty texture, making it perfect for recreating traditional meat dishes with a vegan twist. Its versatility also allows you to make a wide range of dishes, from curries to bakes, and it’s a simple ingredient that can be easily worked into your cooking.

The best part about seitan? You can make it at home. Just remember to use it sparingly and consume this ingredient in moderation to avoid any digestive issues.

So say goodbye to meat (if you haven’t already) and introduce this new meat alternative into your regular life. Cheers.

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